THE CHINESE COMPANY building Red and Orange line trains for the MBTA faces a bleak future in the US market, but T General Manager Phillip Eng appears fairly confident the company will live up to its obligations.
At a hearing of the MBTA board on Thursday, Eng reported that he, T Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville, Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca, Transportation Undersecretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt, and Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao held a virtual meeting on August 16 with the chairman of CRRC, Sun Yongcai.
“We wanted to hear directly that they are committed to this project,” said Eng.
CRRC’s commitment is a question mark. The Chinese company made a splash in the US market in 2014 by securing a contract to build new Red and Orange line cars for the MBTA. The company underbid its closest competitor by $200 million and sweetened the offer by promising to build an assembly plant in Springfield. Contracts quickly followed with transit authorities in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Massachusetts in 2017 upped its order for Red Line cars.
But then Congress passed a law in 2019 barring the use of federal funds for transit procurements from Chinese companies. Since most transit procurements involve federal funds, the law dealt a severe blow to CRRC’s growth plans in the US. New tariffs on Chinese goods and the emergence of COVID knocked the company on its heels; its Springfield manufacturing plant turned out vehicles that often didn’t work right.
Eng indicated the quality issues have largely been addressed through hard work by CRRC and MBTA officials working together. He said new Orange Line cars are averaging 114,000 miles between service failures, well above the 90,000-mile target.
The general manager said he is not worried that federal restrictions on transit funding have turned the US market into a quagmire for CRRC.
“I am not worried about what their future is with regards to other work,” he said. “What I am worried about is this project. They are committed to it. They know the importance of the rolling stock to us. They also know the importance of delivering that rolling stock, not only for us, but for their own purposes. They take a lot of pride in their work.”
Eng said production output remains a problem. The latest schedule calls for all Orange Line cars to be delivered by December 2023 and all Red Line cars by September 2026, but meeting those timelines is unlikely. Fiandaca, the state transportation secretary, hinted in July that the T and CRRC had “reset expectations” with regard to production, and on Thursday Eng said the T and CRRC are developing a new schedule for vehicle deliveries.
“That meeting was to set new parameters and to make sure we are moving together in the right direction,” he said.
Red Line shutdown: With slow zones spreading seemingly uncontrollably across the MBTA subway system, the transit authority says it intends to shut down a portion of the Red Line and all of the Mattapan Line for 16 days in October to replace track and eliminate some 28 slow zones.
– Slow zones are put in place when track defects make it unsafe to run trains at regular speeds. The whole subway system became a slow zone in March when the T couldn’t verify whether track defects uncovered through scans and inspections were being fixed. Engineering inspections led to the lifting of the precautionary systemwide slow zone, leaving about 23 percent of the system subject to slow zone restrictions. That percentage dipped down a bit and then began rising again, despite intense efforts to address the defects. On June 1, speed restrictions covered 28 percent of the Red Line, a percentage that had increased to 31 percent by Thursday. Systemwide, the percentage of speed-restricted subway track has risen from 23 percent to 26 percent over that same time period.
– MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng blamed the slow zone problem on past disinvestment in subway system maintenance. Thomas Glynn, the chair of the MBTA board of directors, answered yes when asked if the subway rail system is crumbling.
– Eng says the Red Line/Mattapan Line work is an attempt to start turning the situation around. All track will be replaced and station improvements will also be made. Read more.
Neal slammed: William Smith of the right-leaning Pioneer Institute says legislation filed by US Rep. Richard Neal expanding drug price controls would be devastating for the life science industry. Read more.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT THIS WEEK
In-depth read: Massachusetts cities and towns have spent millions of dollars of Community Preservation Act money restoring historic churches and religious sites, but it’s difficult to say whether the investments were legal in the wake of a 2018 Supreme Judicial Court decision that failed to make a clear distinction between legitimate historic preservation projects and over-the-line religious investments. Check it out.
Only in CW: The city of Boston, Harvard University, and Boston University pledge $300 million toward the $1.9 billion I-90 Allston multimodal project. Boston is investing $100 million, Harvard $90 million, and BU $10 million. Harvard, in conjunction with Boston, is also putting up $100 million in “value capture” funds. Check it out.
Addressing a different type of gun violence: Boston launches a coordinated plan to address gun violence by people in their mid-to-late 20s. “The gun violence problem in Boston is not a youth issue,” said Isaac Yablo, an advisor to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. “It’s older people who have been disconnected from prosocial programming for a while.” Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Weeks after writing to him urging the Biden administration to speed approval of work permits for arriving migrants, Gov. Maura Healey met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas yesterday to press her case after a scheduled visit he made to Boston. (Boston Herald)
Officials and front-line workers celebrated the launch of MA Repay, a student loan relief program for community health care workers. (The Enterprise)
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu plans to announce a plan for a new “safe sleeping space” for homeless people near Mass. and Cass, but it’s already drawing strong opposition from South End residents. (Boston Globe)
A realtor who serves on the Lanesborough Planning Board and Economic Development Committee reaches a $30,000 settlement with the State Ethics Commission for acting as a municipal employee and a realtor on two real estate sales, one of which was the Berkshire Mall. The realtor said she chose to settle to avoid trips to Boston while battling cancer. (Berkshire Eagle)
More than 60,000 people lost MassHealth coverage in July as the state goes through a post-COVID eligibility evaluation. (State House News Service)
“Of all the millions, maybe billions of photos taken of Donald Trump, this could stand as the most famous. Or notorious,” said Princeton historian Sean Wilentz of the unprecedented mug shot of a former US president. (New York Times)
More than two years after the law was approved by Congress, a federal agency is moving to implement a raft of natural gas pipeline safety regulations prompted by the deadly Merrimack Valley gas disaster. (Eagle-Tribune)
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley calls for the big banks to release data on their George Floyd racial justice pledges. (MassLive)
A Waltham food pantry, forced to leave its location of nearly 20 years, is looking for a new space. (MassLive)
Gov. Maura Healey kicks off free community college program expected to help thousands of students. (GBH)
The Cape Symphony is beginning its search for a new conductor, a month after Jung-Ho Pak left his post of 17 years to conduct in California. (Cape Cod Times)
The New Bedford Standard-Times takes to the sea on the Jones Act Enforcer, a ship used to check for foreign vessels working on wind projects in American waters like Vineyard Wind.
A number of police chiefs are missing from the just-released police officer disciplinary database. (WBUR) The database also failed to include records from three larger departments in the Boston area – Cambridge, Everett, and Brookline. (Boston Globe)
A judge freezes the property holdings of one of the owners and the editor of the Everett Leader Herald in anticipation that Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria will prevail in a libel suit against the local newspaper. (Universal Hub)